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What Evolution Reveals about a Candidate's Vision

With President Obama's second inauguration behind us, Discovery Institute's John West writes in First Things this month about how the apparent decision on the part of the Romney campaign to dismiss some specific concerns of Evangelical Christians played a pivotal role in deciding the election's outcome ("The Evangelical Voter"). This may seem to take us off-topic -- but not entirely.

On the importance of vision in political life, John's comments are particularly important and relevant to the scientific questions we typically deal with at ENV.

[P]olitics abhors a vacuum, and if a candidate does not offer his own positive vision on social issues, the stupid comments of others (Todd Akin, for example) will fill the void and dominate the news cycle. Without a positive vision of your own, you will be forever playing defense, never a good position in politics.

This truth applies not just to the handling of abortion but to other hot-button issues such as evolution, which is turning into one of the secular media's favorite "gotcha" questions for Republican politicians. Witness the post-election drubbing received by the usually eloquent Marco Rubio after he tried to answer a question about the age of the earth.

The vast majority of Evangelicals are skeptical of unguided Darwinian evolution, but contrary to the stereotypes propagated by the media, they don't demand teaching the Bible in science classrooms, nor do they require that politicians pretend to be biblical literalists. They do want public officials who are willing to defend the right of scientists and students to criticize Darwin's theory without fear of reprisals. That means making public arguments for freedom of expression on the topic of evolution, and it means showing interest when dissenting voices are illegitimately suppressed.

Evangelical David Coppedge was harassed, demoted, and discharged by NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab after he shared a few pro-intelligent design DVDs with colleagues. A coalition of pro-family groups appealed to the relevant congressional committees and subcommittees to ask NASA to investigate, but House Republicans didn't even respond. Sometimes actions really do speak louder than words.

John writes that Evangelicals habitually take someone's measure by listening to the way he speaks, or doesn't speak, about faith. I could see a good case, too, for listening to what someone says about evolution -- an ultimate question, about the origins and development of life, what could be bigger? -- and drawing a conclusion that might also be relevant in evaluating a candidate.

That's not because the President of the United States plays a major role in shaping, say, policy on science education but because, in a man or woman running for the nation's highest office, you want to feel like you're supporting a person of depth. That would seem to exclude someone who can't speak with at least a minimum of thoughtfulness about evolution. If he's never given it any serious consideration, what does he spend his time thinking about?

Another way of saying this is that we want to vote for a candidate who is animated by something more, greater, deeper than just the desire to win. What that was, in Romney's case, I always found somewhat unclear. The concerns of Evangelical Christians, in other words, are shorthand for concerns that are even more widely shared.

As John West puts it: "The presidential candidate who understands that Evangelicals are a help rather than a hindrance in a future campaign will be well positioned to forge a new governing coalition."

Go over to First Things and read the rest.